A social work's journey
4 min read/Published On: March 18, 2024/702 words/

Dancing through the decades: A social worker’s journey from ballet to building connections

When I reflect on my 40 years of social work I notice how much has changed over these decades. I find myself following a thread through my early years in a residential setting, the kick start into qualified social work in children and families teams, onwards into multidisciplinary teams supporting foster carers, to training and consultancy, and arriving in the middle of the pandemic as an independent social worker with the freedom to combine all that I have experienced and learned in to something new and a little unique.

At twenty years old I hadn’t planned to enter social work. I was destined for life in ballet shoes and was already teaching ballet in a little stage school before I had left school myself. I had danced since I was two years old. It was my burning passion. I became distracted from this path whilst volunteering in a residential school for ‘maladjusted’ boys (An awful term no longer used). I was horrified by the institutional care and lack of nurture of the boys and decided to be part of the change that I believed these children needed.  It has taken 40 years to become aware that the thread that led me into my long social care journey didn’t start with this first residential role as you might expect.  Maybe it started with the experience of, and my love of dance many years before.

Let me try to explain….

Our work in all areas of social care is centred around relational practice, connections, communication, the ebb and flow of all relationships, and the genograms of the wider web that is systemic practice.  In a recent live legacy interview, the inspiring Dr Ruth Feldman, professor of developmental social neuroscience at Yale Child Study Centre, introduced me to the Bio Behavioural Synchrony Model using phrases that were new to me and struck a chord with my familiar thread that seems to link all aspects off my career together. Her description of a child’s first nine months of life and our human capacity to create a complex biology with another human through our behaviour caught my attention. She used the words “a perfect dance…. the dance of synchrony”.  In order to help us to visualise, and get a feel for this relational ebb and flow, push and pull, movement towards and away, rise and fall, and the fluidity of the connections between us all that are essential to our healthy development and our professional roles, she had used the image of dance…… and I found the golden thread that runs through my whole career linking my Social Work, Mindfulness, DDP and my personal life story together.

Without this dance from birth – where there is no dance between us and our parent carer, or where the dance is erratic and lacks safety – we cannot develop a healthy brain and body. The social brain does not mature.

We move in and out of synchronicity all the time, as children, in adulthood and in our roles within the world of social care. We are not perfect at this dance but if we are good enough, we quite literally ease our minds, and experience joy and a sense of safety. We experience connection.

With this in mind, I now began to contemplate on how many of the other areas of my social care experience and training became clearer with the same imagery. I found a fresh new language for the relational world of therapeutic parenting that I support, for the relational world of support between professionals, and of this relational thing we call ‘being human’.  The visual image of this ‘dance of synchrony’ helps us to smile and be a little kinder to ourselves when we have experienced the ebb rather than the flow, a period when an erratic dance lacked safety, and a tricky moment with someone we hope to feel a connection with.

I’m off to book tickets for a friend and I to the ballet. I wonder what you might be thinking of doing to feel a sense of connection with someone you care for? A little dance around the kitchen may be enough. Enjoy!

Elspeth Soutar – Independent Social Worker / Mindfulness Teacher